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… an interesting quote from the review…

 Simply put, the raison d’etre for the military – despite all protestations to the contrary, despite all the good works they otherwise undertake – is “to engage in combat, should it be required to do so by the national defence policy, and to win. This represents an organisational goal of any military, and the primary focus for military thought through military history.” (Wikipedia) In terms of military doctrine, we note that in the history of the United States of America, the country has been at war 225 out of 243 years since 1776. America is a militarised society where the military prosecutes war on its own terms, disguising power as virtue. In terms of the prosecution of war, the country seems to be manifestly belligerent.

… this is an interesting followup to the Afghanistan article i posted right before it…

05 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five

the article catches my attention because it describes a 22 year old Vonnegut as a prisoner of the Germans in Dresden when it was fire bombed… the book is about Dresden… i did not know that…

… have i read this book?, there is a movie, right?, Art Garfunkle?… google informs me that there is a movie, i haven’t seen it, AG wan’t in it… yes, now i remember, that was Catch 22… the book is apparently about the allied bombing of Dresden during World War II, 130,000 peopled dead, target of no strategic importance, except to break the back of the will of the German people… strange to have this come to the front in the same morning Susan Sontag helps me remember and fill in the gaps of the Vietnam and Desert Storm wars… also the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia… H was lamenting the death of one of the breeders of Chas, ‘the universe is cruel” she said, i pointed out that the universe is indifferent, it is people who are cruel… we believe they can choose not to be cruel and shake our heads over and over again when they don’t… is there free will?… prevailing science seems to think not, so maybe even people are not cruel, they cary out the indifference of the universe…

… the article on Literary Hub is a reprint of “a 1969 review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Iconic Anti-War Novel”… Vietnam war era, an oblivious time in my life, the draft ended as i turned 18… i still got a draft card, number 27 or something like that, i would have gone, or J said once, been shipped to Canada…

… i read the review, it mentions Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, as being unstuck in time and abducted by aliens… ahh, i did read it, a long time ago… the aliens and unstuck time welded to my consciousness, the rest i have no memory of…

02 Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag, Chapter 04

_To catch a death actually happening and embalm it for all time is something only cameras can do, and pictures taken by photographers out in the field of the moment of (or just before) death are among the most celebrated and often reproduced of war photographs.1

… this very first sentence arrests me… the truth of it… the kind of picture we can be so certain isn’t staged, images from Vietnam, napalm child, man being shot in the head, among the most noted, notorious?… i read on and the man shot in the head photo was staged in a fashion, execution carried out as theater for the press corps… this moment in time, reverberating down through the ages by photograph… there is a Woody Allen movie in which the image features as wall decoration in the dining room of a luxury apartment… the idea that someone would live with such an image all day every day means that we can become indifferent over time… was that the message?…

… “More upsetting” Sontag goes on to write, is a collection of photographs made by the Khmer Rouge of people condemned to die moments before they are executed… the condemned had committed the crimes of being “intellectuals” or “counter-revolutionaries”… i think about the precarious situation our country finds itself in where one wrong turn, one failure to stand up to the creep of authoritarianism could bring similar atrocities within our borders…

… because of the power of still and moving images, since the Vietnam war, such imagery has been tightly managed by the military with the news media as a kind of accomplice…

American television viewers weren’t allowed to see footage acquired by NBC (which the network then declined to run) of what that superiority could wreak: the fate of thousands of Iraqi conscripts who, having fled Kuwait City at the end of the war, on February 27, were carpet bombed with explosives, napalm, radioactive DU (depleted uranium) rounds, and cluster bombs as they headed north, in convoys and on foot, on the road to Basra, Iraq—a slaughter notoriously described by one American officer as a “turkey shoot.”2

… how is it i was not aware of this?… was it reported at all?… and how is it we are using radioactive rounds (we needed a use for depleted uranium?)… i do remember the slick presentation of the Gulf War, operation Shock and Awe, Desert Storm… neatly packaged for presentation on the evening news… go team!, may our victories be ever more glorious… there is a Star Trek episode in which war has been sanitized of bloody consequence, attacks are computer simulated and the computers determine who reports to the vaporization machines to take their place among the dead… no muss, no fuss, no rebellious population to stop the fighting…

… Sontag notes that the lens which creates the record is the same as the lens that surveils and targets… the actions of doing each belong in the same category of aggression… it seems to me that the increasing resistance people have to being photographed in public is a reaction to this aggression… it is also interesting that the new capture format, smart phones, is much less aggressive in appearance and, consequently, more successful in its aggression… additionally, this is what has changed, with cameras in everyone’s hands, government censorship of photographs and videos is much more difficult, there is abundant footage these days of the killing of black men by police…

… about media self censorship…

This novel insistence on good taste in a culture saturated with commercial incentives to lower standards of taste may be puzzling. But it makes sense if understood as obscuring a host of concerns and anxieties about public order and public morale that cannot be named, as well as pointing to the inability otherwise to formulate or defend traditional conventions of how to mourn. What can be shown, what should not be shown—few issues arouse more public clamor.3

…to be continued…


  1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (p. 59). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Ibid. [return]
  3. Ibid. [return]

02 Regarding the Pain of Others, Chapter 3, Susan Sontag

… The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Cadmus, Hendrick Goltzius (1588)…

The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Cadmus, 1588, Hendrick Gotzius

Titian, The Flaying of Marsyas

… Sontag is making the point that photographs differ from paintings in that they are not, in most cases, renderings of what a we imagine a horror to be, they are the horror itself once removed…

But there is shame as well as shock in looking at the close-up of a real horror. Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it—say, the surgeons at the military hospital where the photograph was taken—or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be.1

… Goya, Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), eighty-three etchings depicting the brutality of Napoleon’s army when invading Spain in 1808 to put down the Spanish rebellion in 1808…

Grande hazaña! Con muertos! (A heroic feat! With dead men!).

… why must there be brutality for the defeated?, to be thoroughly humiliated?, why do human beings work this way?…

… Sontag makes a point of the non-judgmental captioning of documentary photographs vs. the captions of Goya’s etchings which are very judgmental…

… a painting (sculpture, music score, etc.) is the creation of the artist and its first standard of relevance is the truth of its attribution… a (documentary) photograph’s first standard of reference is the truth of its contents… though authorship can become important when a photograph becomes collectible…

War was and still is the most irresistible—and picturesque—news. (Along with that invaluable substitute for war, international sports.2

… that sporting contests are wars for peacetime is an extremely interesting point, and explains the way news presentation makes war seem little more than sporting contest, at least in the beginning… i remember the broadcast of Operation Desert Storm… the same applies to political contests, with contests for presidency presented in a similar sporting event format… i have spoken of this before…

… The Valley of the Shadow of Death, Roger Fenton… a famous photograph that i have seen in a book somewhere, maybe Sontag’s book, On Photography…

Valley of the Shadow of Death

Valley of the Shadow of Death, with no cannonballs on the road

… it appears that many iconic photographs of conflict were staged…

We want the photographer to be a spy in the house of love and of death, and those being photographed to be unaware of the camera, “off guard.” No sophisticated sense of what photography is or can be will ever weaken the satisfactions of a picture of an unexpected event seized in mid-action by an alert photographer.3

Only starting with the Vietnam War is it virtually certain that none of the best-known photographs were setups.4

Phan Thi Kim Phuc

June 8, 1972: Kim Phúc, center left, running down a road naked near Trảng Bàng after a South Vietnam Air Force napalm attack (Nick Ut / The Associated Press)

After snapping the photograph, Ut took Kim Phúc and the other injured children to Barsky Hospital in Saigon, where it was determined that her burns were so severe that she probably would not survive. After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures including skin transplantations, she was able to return home. A number of the early operations were performed by Finnish plastic surgeon Aarne Rintala. It was only after treatment at a renowned special clinic in Ludwigshafen, West Germany, in 1982, that Kim Phúc was able to properly move again.5


  1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (p. 42). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Ibid. [return]
  3. Ibid. [return]
  4. Ibid. [return]
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phan_Thi_Kim_Phuc [return]